Rams must figure out a way to contain DeMarco Murray
Jerry Jones is enjoying how DeMarco Murray emerging as the NFL’s leading rusher has taken the pressure off Tony Romo for the Dallas Cowboys.
Murray has always been at his best against the St. Louis Rams, who have already let two unheralded players shred them on the ground.
He figures to be the focal point again Sunday for the visiting Cowboys, who are preparing for both quarterbacks that the Rams may start.
No Dallas player has amassed more rushing yards through two games than the league-best 285 by Murray, who gained 167 on a career-high 29 carries in last Sunday’s 26-10 win at Tennessee.
"I think we ran the ball a lot of different ways against a good defensive front, but certainly when DeMarco had the ball in his hands, he was a dominant runner," coach Jason Garrett said. "There’s no question in my mind about that."
Romo has been sacked seven times to match Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers for the league’s second-highest total. He was called upon to throw for only 176 yards against the Titans — and that was OK with Jones.
"When you can have more of a balance, which means that you’re not sitting there with a highway show of passes for Romo, then I think we’re seeing you have a better chance for your defense to be more effective, play less plays, better field position," Jones said.
"All of it works together. And so the way we played Romo the other day fits me just fine and fits him just fine. It’s called winning and that’s what we’re all here for."
A similar game plan figures to be on tap since St. Louis (1-1) allows an average of 171.0 rushing yards for the NFL’s third-worst mark. Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 102 yards in the opener while a backup – Bobby Rainey – had 144 last Sunday even though St. Louis won 19-17 at Tampa Bay.
"We’re not where we need to be in run defense," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We’re going to really be tested this week. We gotta get better there. We missed too many tackles, had some run misfits."
Murray’s best career efforts have come the last two times the Cowboys have faced the Rams. He gained 253 yards to break Emmitt Smith’s franchise record of 237 in a 34-7 rout Oct. 23, 2011, and had 175 last Sept. 22 in a 31-7 win.
"It seems like only yesterday we had that mess happen in Dallas last year," Fisher said. "Dallas had the ball for over 41 minutes in Tennessee. That’s going to be a huge challenge for us."
Fisher says that Shaun Hill will start if the quarterback is able to return from a thigh injury suffered in the opener. That’s the case even though rookie Austin Davis was 22 of 29 for 235 yards in his first career start last weekend.
"If Shaun is healthy and able to play and not gonna subject himself to re-injuring this or making it worse, then Shaun’s our quarterback and Austin’s our backup," Fisher said. "And that’s just the way it is."
Hill is 0-2 against the Cowboys (1-1) despite 592 passing yards and four touchdowns, losing in 2008 with San Francisco and 2010 with Detroit.
"Shaun’s more of a veteran player, he’s played a long time in this league, he has a certain style but it doesn’t seem like they change drastically from a system standpoint," Garrett said. "They seem to run the same kinds of plays, and do the same kinds of things with each of those guys."
The Cowboys’ defense looks much improved from the unit that allowed a franchise-worst 415.3 yards per game a year ago. That figure is down to 316.5 after limiting the Titans to 68 yards and no points in the first half.
The defense will receive a boost if Orlando Scandrick is back on the field. The cornerback is rejoining the club two weeks early after a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs was cut in half since the players and the league reached agreement on a revised policy.
The Cowboys will determine whether Scandrick can play based on how he fares in practice this week.
"He’s got a competitive spirit," Garrett said. "He’s got a way about him that we think is really positive for our team and infectious on our team. He’s just a good player. It’s good to get him back in the mix."
The Rams led the NFC with 53 sacks a year ago but have two in 2014. Star defensive end Robert Quinn has zero after he had a conference-best 19 in 2013.